OKOTOKS, AB (Apr. 2, 2023) — The Okotoks Oilers gave it all they had but ultimately fell to the Brooks Bandits by a 3–1 score in Game 6 of their AJHL South Division semifinal series.

Sunday’s game saw a record-breaking crowd of 2,070 fans pack Okotoks Centennial Arena. The 50/50 pot surged all the way up to $14,450 — another new club record.

But the Oilers’ exciting playoff run, which saw them sweep the Camrose Kodiaks before stealing a pair of games against the top-seeded Bandits, came to an end despite another strong performance from starting goaltender Parker Sawka (Cochrane, AB).

Sawka was one of four 2002-born players in the lineup for the home side on Sunday. Zeth Kindrachuk (Calgary, AB), Ty Yoder (Tofield, AB), and Ethan Rowland (Calgary, AB) also suited up for the Oilers for the final time on Sunday, while Nolan Flint (Beaverlodge, AB) did not dress.

But while the Oilers will have to regroup next season without the services of these five key veterans, they can take solace in the fact that all six of their defencemen from Game 6 against Brooks still have at least one more year of AJHL eligibility ahead of them.

Kade Turner (Calgary, AB) is one of those blue-line pillars for the Oilers. Activated off the injured list just in time for Game 3 against Brooks, Turner sniped home his first goal of the postseason to spoil the Bandits’ shutout bid in the third period of Game 6.

Believe it or not, Turner is actually one of the elder statesmen of the Oilers’ current defensive group. He and Logan Magowan (Calgary, AB) are the lone 2003-born defencemen on the roster. Nick Wolfenberg (Calgary, AB), Jamie Weller (Calgary, AB), Brody Maguire (Calgary, AB), and Jace Moffatt (Cochrane, AB) are all ’04s; midseason acquisition Rylan Brown (Sherwood Park, AB) is an ’05.

The future is bright.

It remains to be seen exactly what the future holds for some of the Oilers’ younger top players, but there’s good news up front. Even with Yoder, Kindrachuk, Flint, and Ethan Rowland graduating, the Oilers’ top three scorers from the regular season are all eligible to return.

Leading scorer Conyr Hellyer (Okotoks, AB) still has two years of AJHL eligibility ahead of him, as does slippery winger Sam Huck (Calgary, AB). Brett Huxley (Calgary, AB) is slated to assume the role of an elder statesman for this Oilers team next season. All three have exhibited outstanding capabilities at this level.

And, of course, the door is open for Oilers captain Dean Spak (Calgary, AB) to play for the team in a sixth consecutive season. The Alaska-Fairbanks commit made his AJHL debut all the way back in the 2018–19 season and is eligible to extend his tenure through 2023–24.

Just name them off: Connor Gourley, Jagger Tapper, Ryan Neumann, Jackson Rowland, Shayne Tibbles, and Alex Scheiwiller (all from Calgary, AB) can all return. So can Hunter Sawka (Cochrane, AB). And that’s not to mention all the up-and-coming affiliates, many of whom already saw action in the 2022–23 season as the Oilers dealt with a rash of injuries down the stretch.

The Oilers came out on the wrong side of Sunday’s playoff contest. Caelan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Poshak put Brooks up 2–0 early before Aiden Fink added some critical insurance in the second period. Although the hosts tried with all their might to get the better of Bandits starter Ethan Barwick, they only managed to beat him once in the game.

But, if you’re an Oilers fan, there are good times ahead. Many of your favourite players will be right back at Okotoks Centennial Arena next season and beyond — and the best fans in the AJHL will be right there to cheer them on.

Thank you for all your support of the Oilers this and every season. It’ll be September again before you know it.

Recap: Mike Gould
Photo: Chad Goddard